How would you describe 2019?
Historically, the economy is slow during electoral years and in line with that, Panama's growth rate in 1Q2019 was 3.1%, lower compared to the same period of last year, mostly due to the construction and services sectors. The construction sector's performance dipped in 2018 because of strikes. Nevertheless, it is projected that the mining sector will help offset this slowdown with the start of copper production. The situation has been the opposite for the local capital market; 1Q2019 closed with USD4.3 billion, a 50% increase YoY. Despite 2019 being an election year, we posted an increase in trading volume as a result of the strategic initiatives we have been working on for the past few years.
What does it mean to become the first exchange in Latin America to be a part of the Climate Bonds Partners program?
We are working on different initiatives to become the hub for the regional capital market and follow high international standards; this partnership is indeed a step toward achieving this goal. It is our commitment to develop a local capital market under the best environmental, social, and governance principles to offer investors responsible investments, based on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. This partnership will contribute to the development of initiatives that will allow us to achieve our objectives, contribute to our society, and educate and promote these principles to all stakeholders. We are working with the CBI on a guide for green, social, and sustainable bonds and plan to launch it by 3Q2019.
What opportunities does high liquidity of the USD bring to the business environment?
Since Panama has a USD-based economy, high liquidity of the USD presents important business opportunities. However, we need to cautiously follow the US-China trade war and other commercial tensions due to the impact they have on our economy, particularly to the Panama Canal, a major contributor to the country's GDP.
What is your perspective on fintech and what is the stock exchange doing in this regard?
Fintech is highly important for the financial sector of any country, and Panama is no exception. We need to establish a regulatory framework that not only regulates these types of innovative business models, but also promotes and enables their inclusion in a friendly environment so that they can help transform our financial sector. Fintech must be addressed as a matter of urgency because its mandatory for the benefit of our financial sector. At Panama Stock Exchange, we are working on a number of initiatives, but they are mostly in the early stages of development.
What has been the role of the stock exchange when it comes to integrating markets and expanding and bringing more companies?
Our role has been key to the integration of the Salvadorian and Panamanian markets. As of May 2017, we had completed over USD100 million worth of negotiations and had cleared and settled over 500 trades. We continue to work on enhancements to our integration model to provide more liquidity to our markets and are also working with Association of Capital Markets of the Americas (AMERCA) on a project to integrate its remaining exchange members.
What are your targets and goals for 2020?
Our goal is to become the hub for the regional capital markets by 2020. Hence, we have been working on different strategic initiatives, including an important financial educational project. Moreover, we have been working with the regulator to enhance our regulatory framework and with governmental agencies to develop our local capital market. Sustainability has become an important part of our strategic plan, and we will continue to work on having our bond guide in place, recommend the ESG principles guide to our stakeholders, and bring awareness of responsible investments. Equally important, we will continue to promote our market and its benefits.